The Problem with Big Pharma, Part II

Alright, this is part II of my longwinded ranting about big pharma. Strap on your seat-belts, because here I go again.

When last we spoke, I left you with the question of how my doctor had been so mind-booglingly stupid as to confuse the staph infection I had on my leg with fleas; the only real commonalities are 1. they itch and 2. they look funky. My answer is a little tongue in cheek, but not altogether absurd.

Big Pharma and Med Students

There's a developing trend in med schools that's a little scary for those of us who want out doctors to be reliable, unbiased, and well-studied. That trend is drug manufacturers sponsoring lectures and professors, and "educating" those enrolled in med schools.

In 2005, University of Minnesota students complained that PowerPoint slides for a lecture on erectile dysfunction were watermarked with the logo for Cialis (a drug for erectile dysfunction manufactured by Eli Lilly). Moreover, it was found that the professor giving the lecture was on the advisory board for Cialis and, hence, had a vested interest in the company.

How can we expect that these students are getting the full story of so-called "erectile dysfunction" (which many say can be improved by adding a little chili to your diet) if their lectures are being given by a specific drug company with aims towards profit?

Another example of the biased condition of med schools is made clear in the story of David Healy; Healy was offered a position at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), which is a U of T affiliate. Shortly after the offer was made, he gave a lecture at the CAMH in which he raised concerns about new anti-psychotic drugs, saying the had the potential to do a great deal of harm in some patients and should be perscribed carefully. The physcian-in-chief of the CAMH, Dr. David Goldbloom, was extremely angered by the lecture and withdrew the job offer.

Even though the audience present had ranked Healy's lecture as the best of the day, he was still punished for speaking out against drug companies (specifically, the manufacturers of Prozac, which has a patient suicide rate of 10/1000 as opposed to the average 1.5/1000). So, it seems the best lecturers are being turned away, if they don't agree with pushing pharmaceuticals.

Maybe this doesn't exactly explain the kind of ineptitude my doctor exhibited, but it certainly does explain (what I would call) the declining quality of doctors overall. The real facts are being made secondary to the facts that are going to sell a higher number of drugs.

Revising Guidelines

Another point I want to quickly speak to is the revision of cholesterol guidelines and what constitutes "high cholesterol." Once upon a time, the cut-off for high cholesterol was much higher than it is today: it's moved from blood cholesterol levels of 280mm per deciliter all the way down to below 100. Why the drastic change?

In 2003 it was found that eight of the nine major experts who wrote the 2003 cholesterol guidelines were employed by major drug companies. Hence, a lower cut-off means more people have "high cholesterol," which means more people need drugs. In 2005 the guidelines changed so that 500,000 more people would be advised to take statin medication. That meant $250 million more in profit for drug companies.

To put things in perspective: a middle-aged man who takes statins for 10 years reduces his risk of heart attack by 2%, on average. However, napping about 3 times a week for 30 minutes reduces your risk of heart-attack by about 37%. So, why are we paying for these drugs, again?

Moreover, people who do not have evidence of occlusive vascular disease SHOULD NOT BE TAKING STATINS. That means that 3/4 of the people who are currently on them, should not, in fact, be. This means that the doctors that we put so much faith in are frequently perscribing drugs to people who don't need them!

You've got to ask yourself, have the risks of cholesterol over 100mm really changed that much, or is there something else going on here? Who's benefitting?

The drug industry, though it does a lot of good for a lot of people, does not deserve the kind of power and authority that we give to it. One of the things that we so often forget is that we are consumers, dealing with businesses. The pharmaceutical industry is a business. The media exists, businesses exist, drug commercials exist to sell us products. They are not parents, or gods, or protectors of mankind. The are a bunch of folks who are out to make money. And there's nothing wrong with that. The problems start when they start deceiving us and we don't look take responsibility for ourselves and look into the deceit.

Amber Pinsonneault's Feed Your Head is a great place to starting learning about natural health alternatives and what works. Again, the facts found in this post were taken from James Winter's "Lies the Media Tells Us" and the documentary "Big Bucks, Big Pharma."

posted by Ashley Girty @ 3:30 PM,


At March 14, 2009 at 5:18 PM, Blogger Chris said...

My biggest question about all of this is: What's the difference in the impact of Big Pharma on your average American as opposed to the impact on your average Canadian? I mean, if an American is duped by Cialis or Nexium, in large part it only costs them and/or their HMO. In Canada, the companies really only have to dupe the doctors, and the taxpayers suffer for it. It seems like there's a lot of American-oriented data here - do you have anything about Canada and how *we're* getting screwed?

At March 14, 2009 at 5:51 PM, Blogger Ashley Girty said...

I'm talking about the Canadian Cholesterol Guidelines and Candian statin usage. David Healy, the CAMH, and the University of Toronto are all Canadian. The only thing that's American here is U of Minnesota & Cialis, but Canadian medical students are subject to the same kind of lectures.

What kind of information, in particular, are you looking for?

At March 14, 2009 at 8:47 PM, Blogger Ashley Girty said...

Sorry, I guess I ignored the first part of your question, but you seem to have intuited it yourself; the Canadian health care system encompasses perscription coverage in a way the American one doesn't. I think the last statistic available says that Canadians spend about $800 per person per year on perscription drugs. That's up from about $45 in 1975, so you can see how much we're overloading, these days. That cost is absorbed by the health care system, which means higher taxes. Conversely, the American system leaves more to the individual.

At March 15, 2009 at 5:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem, too, is that big pharma has overly medicalized many problems that are psychological or relational. If a man is under 40, his ED is often rooted in performance anxiety. As a psychologist and sex therapist, I know that performance anxiety is rather easily treated in the therapist's office, and not with a pill. Let's de-medicalize sex and change it back to what it is--a human encounter, generally with another human being.

Dr. Stephanie Buehler
The Buehler Institute
The Blog Erotic


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